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Israel Needs to Stop Using Arab Towns as IDF Training Grounds

Zehava Galon
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Umm al-Fahm, last month.
Umm al-Fahm, last month.Credit: Rami Shllush
Zehava Galon

Last week the Israel Defense Forces’ Northern Command conducted an exercise using armored personnel carriers in Wadi Ara and the city of Umm al-Fahm. The army’s official excuse – because that’s exactly what it was – was that the alleyways there “recalled southern Lebanon.”

The exercise came six months after the hostilities with Gaza and the volatile incidents within Israel, and even IDF officers should understand what this maneuver means to the residents of Umm al-Fahm: “We can occupy you at any given moment.” The chairman of the Umm al-Fahm oversight committee, Ali Adnan, later said on Kan Bet public radio that Israel is turning its Arab residents into enemies, like in Lebanon.

If the army wanted to conduct an exercise in a town that resembled southern Lebanon, it has enough space – and funding, too – to build a neighborhood that looks like Marjayoun. The IDF wouldn’t plan and execute such a maneuver in Safed. They wouldn’t frighten Jewish residents like that. After the events of May, the IDF claimed that Arab bus drivers did not show up for its exercise. About a week later it turned out that the army itself had refused to call them in.

And that’s precisely the point. The army was training in Umm al-Fahm exactly as it regularly trains in communities in the West Bank. The residents are extras at best. And if a stray bullet is fired, or a mortar, of course it would be unfortunate, but it doesn’t matter too much, and it would attract no negative attention in Israel.

This government’s main achievement is cooperation with the United Arab List in the coalition – which has never before been achieved in Israel’s history. But how is it that this government, too, continues to treat Arab citizens of Israel, with their decades of experience of institutionalized discrimination and no less institutionalized incitement, as an enemy?

This is why crime in Arab society is called “terror,” and this is how another shocking report came out last week – the Shin Bet security service extracted confessions from three Jaffa residents about their alleged assault on a soldier. If the suspects’ lawyer had not found video clips from the scene, and used them to prove that the three arrived after the incident, it is almost certain that they would have been convicted.

That is the situation when you’re an Arab citizen in the Jewish state: You’re always guilty. Arabs can be subject to administrative arrests and searches of their homes without a warrant – two procedures the Shin Bet and the IDF use in the West Bank on a daily basis.

And this is the place to mention something that Jews prefer to forget, but it’s forever etched in the memory of Arabs in Israel: These methods were not invented in the West Bank. During the time of military rule, they were first used on Israel’s Arab citizens, until it ended in 1966.

Practically speaking, we are asked to choose between two methods of government. One, a regime based on ethnicity, a superior Jewish regime. The other, citizenship: “One law and one ordinance shall be both for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you” (Numbers 15:16). Those who protest over defining Israel as an apartheid state should have stood strong against the twisted idea of two separate justice systems – within Israel proper! – one for Jews and one for other Israelis. But amazingly, those protesters are exactly the ones who are pushing for the methods of military rule to be reinstated.

Human rights cannot be divided: If there are no rights for the Arabs of Israel, the rights of the Jews will be undermined. The new tools will be too tempting for the police and other security forces. Better to stop it now, before it is too late.

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